Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Baader Meinhof Gang

Campus Turmoil

In West Berlin, as in most places in the democratic world, college campuses were the location for much political and social ferment during the tumultuous decade of the 1960s. Many university students, together with friends who were not in school, began experimenting with illegal drugs like pot and hashish and wearing a uniform of rebellion to distinguish themselves from their elders: jeans and t-shirts for everyone, long hair and beards for males. Some tried communal living. Student organizations grew up to challenge the archaic rules at colleges and demand that students have more of a voice in how they were educated. Many new political groups and public protests were organized.

One of the earliest protests got a decidedly mixed reaction from the West German "establishment." The Berlin Wall went up in 1961 and many Germans were understandably outraged. Some four months after this monstrosity was built, approximately 40,000 people, many of them college students, poured into the streets to protest against it. This demonstration was triggered by the death of a young East Berliner who had attempted to scale the Wall and died when he jumped. "Away with Ulbricht [Walter Ulbricht, Chancellor of East Germany] and Mao! Away with Ulbricht and Mao!" the furious protestors chanted. In the word of Jillian Becker, "they tried to storm the wall" and police attacked the young anti-Communists.

Within a few short years, however, many student organizations had veered sharply leftward. Perhaps it was because so few people were able to get to West Germany from the East and so refresh people's memories as to the reality of life in a communist dictatorship. Thus, it was easy to romanticize Marx, always so much better in fantasy that in practice. Posters of Mao, along with Che and Fidel, began appearing on the walls of West Berlin's college dorms. A group called the Socialist Student Union, in German Sozialistischer Deutscher Studenbund, or SDS, became popular with young radicals. This SDS had no connection to the Students for a Democratic Society in the United States but was akin to it in being both left-wing and youth-oriented. One of the chief targets of the radicals was the Springer publishing firm, a large company whose organs were staunchly conservative, sometimes tended toward sensational yellow journalism, and often attacked the left.

The best known of the Federal Republic's young left-wing radicals were Fritz Teufel, Rainer Langhans, Dieter Kunzelmann, and Rudi Dutschke. Like their American counterparts Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, they tended to inject a strong element of clownishness into politics.

Teufel means "devil" in German. Fritz's devilishness was usually of a mischievous rather than earnestly wicked variety. He sported wire-rimmed eyeglasses and a full mustache and beard. He was a member of a commune called Kommune I, several of whose members (although not Teufel) were arrested for conspiring to bomb then-US Vice President Hubert Humphrey. The "bombs" turned out to be such items as eggs and pudding that they were planning to throw. Later, Teufel and Langhans were arrested for "incitement to arson" on the basis of some pamphlets they had co-written. They were acquitted.

Rainer Langhans, a close associate of Teufel's, wore a flamboyant mop of curls atop his head and also favored the wire-rimmed glasses popular among the young set during that era. He joined up with Kommune I and was prominent in several of its deliberately humorous and offbeat "happenings."

Dieter Kunzelmann was the most deliberately outrageous character out of the four. A leader of Kommune I, he was given to statements like, "I do not study, I do not work, I have trouble with my orgasm and I want the public to be informed of this." On another occasion, he reiterated the point, proclaiming, "I don't care about Vietnam, I care about my orgasm."

Rudi Dutschke's stay at Kommune I was brief because he was unwilling to have his girlfriend (whom he later married) share her sexual favors with others. However, he became a bigshot among radicals and appeared on TV after the shooting of Benno Ohnesorg to say the Federal Republic was "tending toward Fascism." Soon, after Ohnesorg's death, Dutschke would become something of a martyr to leftists because a young man who claimed he "couldn't stand communists" made an unsuccessful attempt on his life

Dutschke's shoe
Dutschke's shoe

On April 11, 1968, the Thursday before Easter, Dutschke was riding his bicycle to a SDS office when Josef Bachmann shot him down. The three shots caught Dutschke in the head, throat, and chest. An oddly dramatic photograph of a shoe he had left behind appeared in newspapers.

Dutschke would make a full recovery, while his assailant committed suicide in prison. The shooting of Dutschke, along with the general resistance of the Federal Republic to the sort of changes desired by the radical left, led some of his fellow radicals to eschew pacifism. Those who would eventually become known as the Baader-Meinhof Gang believed that violence was thoroughly justified by the righteousness of their cause.

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